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As with most things concerning the band Mastodon, I'm torn between what sounds like some healthy ideas and the obvious flaws of the music. "Call of the Mastodon" is a compilation album, just under a half hour in length, which chronicles the earlier, pre-"Remission" material by this band. The choices made here are rather easily linked to later, more familiar material. The album itself has more of a gritty atmosphere one can instantly associate with the sludge metal scene. Considering some of the band members were influenced by bands like The Melvins, this is understandable.
So what does this album represent? It basically represents the early days of this band. The progressive tendencies are there, as are the leanings into random noise and mass confusion concerning the drum beats, though the former is not as present here as later on. Brann Dailor continues to annoy the hell out of me, and I wish someone would inform him his days in a grindcore outfit are over, and its time to put the self-indulgence behind. I say this because as evident by "Shadows that Move" and "Thank You for This," among others, he has little content for maintaining a straight beat. Some call this impressive, I call it randomness personified, which causes the songs to suffer in terms of memorability and overall the enjoyment of the listener.
Aside from the drumming issues, which one will always encounter when dealing with this band, most things here are actually quite good. The vocals are actually better here than later on, emitting a misanthropic growl that sludge fans probably won't mind. Sure the vocals are ugly as hell, but they also morph into cleaner (yet gritty) vocals and they suit the sludge infested music well. The lyrics aren't all that spectacular, and don't follow a common theme such as the fire, water, and earth elements that later works would.
In terms of songs, I found few here that were truly memorable. "Battle at Sea" would be one, with its somber beginning before morphing into a decent number. The usual indulgences of Mastodon still arise even here, but to a lesser extent. "Call of the Mastodon" also fits here and is also one of the better songs. The shorter numbers like "Hail to Fire" and "Thank You for This" are around the two minute mark, but both are pretty hard to keep up with and to recall. Essentially, alot of this runs in usual Mastodon fashion in that they embody good songs with ill-fitted ideas and randomness running amok.
Taken as a whole, "Call of the Mastodon" is actually not all that bad. It isn't necessarily that good, either. Instead, its a glimpse into the future of this band, while remaining heavily tied to the dirty sludge metal approach. I found most of this album fairly enjoyable while it was playing, though I also found most of it hard to remember. Of course, if you're a Mastodon fan, you're used to this so it shouldn't bother you too much. Those listeners interested in this band might want to check out "Leviathan," which is the most straight-forward work and indeed the best album this band has done. Keep in mind I used the word "random" alot in the review, which refers to most of the music this band has put out. Most of this is caused by the drummer, who refuses to understand where and when overly technical drumming is appropiate, and where it is not, thus resulting in a tidal wave of unnecessary drum fills and beat changes. Yet in the case of "Call of the Mastodon," I recommend this only to Mastodon fans and perhaps sludge metal fans as well, who will get two songs in "Battle at Sea" and "Slickleg," that lay off the structural confusion long enough to present an enjoyable and memorable song.